When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?

Last updated on November 12, 2021

witness and judge in court

A witness is someone who has seen/heard or knows something about a case or an accused and could include a victim of the case.

As a witness in a court proceeding, you may be required to give a testimony (i.e. evidence) in court.

However, a witness testimony may be deemed unreliable by the judge in certain circumstances, and this could affect the outcome of the case. This article will explain:

When is a Witness Testimony Deemed Unreliable?

Essentially, a testimony is unreliable when it is inconsistent, and the judge will decide whether the testimony given is unreliable based on all the circumstances of the case. The following are ways that a testimony can be inconsistent:

  1. Testimony being a form of premeditated fabrication, an embellishment, confusion (i.e. the witness is unsure of the sequence of events) or a combination of these;
  2. Witnesses communicating with each other with the intent to have the same story for the police or court, leading to contamination of their testimonies or;
  3. Lying in the testimony.

However, one-off inconsistencies because the witness cannot remember some details do not automatically render the testimony unreliable.

When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Sexual Assault Cases?

Witness testimony can be unreliable in sexual assault cases when the witness adds significant details to the statement made in court, which were not made in the earlier police statements. These details may be new information that does not logically fit within the sequence of events described in the police statements.

An example would be a case involving a man who was accused of molesting a woman on an SIA flight from Japan in June 2019. He was accused of touching the thigh and groin area of the woman sitting next to him during the flight. The woman who had allegedly been molested had to testify in court so that the judges could ascertain what happened during the flight.

However, the woman’s testimony was found to be inconsistent as her earlier statements to the police were “critically different” than the ones made in court. The woman was not able to explain why she had new and vivid details later in court, but not in her police statements. These new details included calling a police officer friend after the event, yet not telling her friend about the incident.

She was not able to explain to the court why she did not tell her police officer friend about the sexual assault immediately after it happened, nor explain why she did not mention this detail in the police statements. The significant inconsistency in the two statements made her evidence unreliable to the extent that the accused was acquitted.

In cases where the only evidence is the victim’s testimony, the witness’s testimony must also be “unusually convincing”. This is sometimes the situation in sexual assault cases, where the only evidence in front of the court is the victim’s testimony as to what happened.

For the testimony to be “unusually convincing”, it has to be so convincing that the prosecution is able to prove its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt solely on the basis of such evidence. Learn more about the “unusually convincing” test in our other article.

When is a Witness Testimony Considered Reliable? 

In contrast, witness testimony is generally considered reliable when it is consistent, and the witness is clear and coherent in his or her evidence. This means that there are no contradictions in the testimony, no new and vivid details in the testimony from previous statements made to authorities, and the witness is honest in their testimony.

Using the earlier molest case as an example, the man’s testimony was considered reliable because it was consistent. He gave many details of his actions in his testimony, such as giving the woman his contact number, where these actions would not have made sense if he had indeed molested her.

What Happens If the Witness Testimony is Proven to be Unreliable?

Depending on how unreliable the testimony is, the judge will decide how much weight it should be given. In other words, the judge will decide how much importance to give to that testimony when making his/her decision on the case.

Although an unreliable testimony may still be admissible in court, it may be less impactful on the judge’s decision where there are other reliable testimonies present. However, when the testimony is crucial to the case pleaded, but it is found to be unreliable, this can have a significant impact on the outcome of the case.

In the case of the alleged molestation discussed above, the accused was acquitted due to the sole witness’ (also the victim) testimony being unreliable.

What Can I Do If I Suspect a Witness Testimony to be Unreliable?

If you suspect that a witness testimony is unreliable, you can inform your lawyer. Your lawyer can then impeach the credit of the witness under section 157 of the Evidence Act.

The purpose of impeaching a witness’ credit is to undermine his/her credibility so as to convince the court that the testimony should not be believed. The witness’ credit can be impeached by showing that the witness:

  • Is of such a character and moral make-up that he/she is incapable of speaking the whole truth under oath
  • Has been bribed
  • Has given testimony that is inconsistent with his/her former statements

Will the Witness be Charged With an Offence?

When giving testimony, you have a duty of honest disclosure. This means you have to tell the truth. If a witness were to intentionally misrepresent a truth or lie in a court proceeding, he/she may be charged with perjury.

Perjury is a criminal offence under section 193 of the Penal Code and offenders can be punished up to 7 years’ jail and a fine.

Should I Engage a Lawyer?  

If you are being represented in a court case and think that the testimony provided by a witness on the opposing side of the case is unreliable, you should inform your lawyer who can then attempt to impeach the credibility of the witness.

If you are a witness in a court case (be it a civil or criminal case), you can also consider consulting a lawyer to receive advice on your duties of honest disclosure to the court.

Arrest and Investigation
  1. Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?
  2. What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme in Singapore?
  3. Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
  4. Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
  5. Seized Assets in Money Laundering Investigations: What Happens To Them?
  6. Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
  7. What Happens When You Voluntarily Surrender to the Police
  8. What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
  9. How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
  10. What to Do If Your Loved One is Under Police Investigation
  11. Your Right to a Lawyer After Being Arrested in Singapore
  12. Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)
  13. Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
  14. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  15. Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  16. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  17. Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  18. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  19. "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
  20. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  21. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  22. Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
  23. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  24. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  25. Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
  1. What is Private Prosecution?
  2. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  3. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  4. Composition Offers and Fines for Criminal Offences in Singapore
  5. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
During Criminal Proceedings
  1. Using the Defence of Diminished Responsibility in Singapore
  2. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: Special Exceptions
  3. Giving False vs. Wrong Evidence: What’s the Difference?
  4. Writing Character References For Court: What’s Their Purpose?
  5. When Can I Raise the Defence of Provocation in Singapore?
  6. Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?
  7. TIC: Guide to Charges Taken Into Consideration in Singapore
  8. How to Adjourn or Postpone a Criminal Court Hearing
  9. The "Unusually Convincing" Test in "He Said, She Said" Cases
  10. Death of a Party in a Legal Case in Singapore: What Happens?
  11. What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
  12. Falsely Accused of a Crime in Singapore: Your Next Steps
  13. Burden of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases in Singapore
  14. When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
  15. Legal Defences in Criminal Law: General Exceptions
  16. Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
  17. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  18. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  19. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  20. The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
  21. Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
  22. Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
After Criminal Proceedings
  1. Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
  2. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  3. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  4. Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
  5. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  6. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  7. Criminal Records in Singapore
  8. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  9. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
Types of Sentences After Committing an Offence
  1. Fined for an Offence: What to Do If I Can't Afford to Pay Them?
  2. How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  3. Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
  4. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  5. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  6. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
  7. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  8. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  9. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  10. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
  11. Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
Being a Victim
  1. Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
  2. Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
  3. Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
  4. Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
  5. Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  6. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
Offences Against the Human Body
  1. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  2. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore (and Penalties)
  3. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I Be Punished for Trying?
  4. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
Sexual Offences
  1. How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
  2. BDSM Gone Wrong: Potential Legal Issues with Sexual Kink Practices
  3. The Offence of Attempted Rape in Singapore: Law & Penalties
  4. Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
  5. Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
  6. Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
  7. Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
  8. Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
  9. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  10. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  11. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  12. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  13. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
  14. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  15. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  16. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
  17. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Alcohol Breathalyser Test in Singapore: Can You Refuse it?
  2. Are Sex Toys and Sex Dolls Legal in Singapore?
  3. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
  4. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
  6. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  7. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  8. Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
  9. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  10. Gambling Legally (at Home, in Public or Online) in Singapore
  11. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
Property Offences
  1. What is a Protected Area and Place in Singapore?
  2. Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
  3. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  4. Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  5. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  6. Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
  7. Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
  8. Penalties for Littering Offences in Singapore
  1. What is a POFMA Correction Direction and How to Appeal
  2. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
  3. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  4. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  5. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Tax Evasion in Singapore: Penalties and Examples
  2. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
  3. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  4. A Guide to Singapore’s Anti-Money Laundering Laws
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
  6. Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
Road Offences
  1. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  2. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  4. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  5. Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
  6. Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
  7. Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  8. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
Animal-Related Offences
  1. Taxidermy of Animals in Singapore: Is It Legal?
  2. Legal and Illegal Pets in Singapore (HDB/Private Property)
  3. Is It Illegal to Feed Stray Animals in Singapore?
  4. Animal Abuse in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report Abuse
Offences Relating to Public Peace and Good Order
  1. Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
  2. Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  3. Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
  4. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
  5. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  6. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  7. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
  8. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
Gang and Riot-related Offences
  1. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  2. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  3. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
Marriage-Related Offences
  1. Bigamy: Is It Legal to Marry a Married Person in Singapore?
  2. Marriage Offences in Singapore Involving Minors, Same-Sex, Etc.
  3. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them
  2. Misusing the Singapore Flag and Other National Symbols
  3. What are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore?
  4. Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
  5. Offences Against the Dead and What Family Members Can Do
  6. Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
  7. Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore
  8. Penalties for Attempting to Commit a Crime in Singapore
  9. Penalties for Assaulting a Person in Singapore
  10. Is Dining & Dashing Illegal in Singapore?
  11. Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
  12. What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
  13. What Are Ponzi Schemes? Are They Illegal in Singapore?
  14. Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
  15. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  16. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore